Sunday, November 8, 2015

Disorder (Maryland)

Perhaps my favorite genre is the paranoid thriller (my top being, as one might expect, the 70s films The Parallax View and Three Days of the CondorMemento [2000], being a more modern version, and more of a mystery than a thriller).

Disorder (Maryland--the name of the estate in the south of France where most of the action takes place), by a young (age 39) auteur, Alice Winocour (she directed and co-wrote with Jeane-StĂ©phane Bron), is an ultra-contemporary paranoid thriller told from the POV of Matthias Schoenaerts' character, Vincent.  He's an Afghanistan vet trying to cope with PTSD while on leave, working a private security gig protecting a Lebanese businessman and his family (which includes the businessman's trophy wife Jessie, played by Diane Kruger, and their son).  "The main plot is of the camera," as the French Winocour describes the POV.

Winocour's film is intense--she dials it up to 11 and sustains it.  She got the idea for the story from speaking with veterans, and in a Q & A after a screening of the film at the AFI Fest in Los Angeles, also confessed, "I put all my fears in the film."  She specifically wrote the film for Schoenaerts, whose character "witnesses everything and at the same time feels powerless."  Is it his PTSD-induced paranoia and hypervigilance, or is someone really watching and following them?  I have to say that, as a psychotherapist, I think that Winocour gives us an amazingly realistic portrayal of PTSD.

Winocour uses sound design, and specifically silences and the music of techno artist/DJ Gesaffelstein to recreate Vincent's "mental landscape" and stimulate a heightened sense of dread in the viewer; the use of sound here is stunningly effective.  Winocour said she listened to Gesaffelstein every morning during the shoot and that his music helped her to create the rhythm of the film.  (She also shared that Schoenaerts prepared by sleeping only two hours each night.)

Perhaps the most incisive point Winocour made during the Q & A is her belief that "doubt is the principal ingredient of the paranoid thriller."  One viewer in the audience asked a question about what had happened to the family dog.  Winocour initially answered, smiling and slightly shrugging, "he disappeared."  Then she elaborated that she intentionally left that in doubt.  As she pointed out, in a conventional thriller, the audience would see the dog killed in the garden.  But this is not a film that deals in the usual tropes.

Disorder is also an unconventional "kind of" love story.  There's a wonderful scene that substitutes for what in a traditional genre thriller would be a sex scene (it's as singular as Faye Dunaway's line in Condor, as she's handcuffed by Redford to the toilet, "The night is young," but Winocour's scene is subtle, evocative, and moving--and that's all I'll say so as not to spoil it).

The ending will no doubt (pun intended) frustrate a few--those few who need to be told what happened to the dog.  Or whether the top ever stopped spinning in Inception.  Disorder (Maryland) induces the viewer to expand his/her capacity for empathy, and along with that, imagination.

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